Yesterday, Michigan’s Republican governor signed the Republican lame-duck legislature’s improperly named “right to work” statute. Already, people are clamoring for a similar law to be passed in New York, so that we, too, can join the other, enlightened states that have such legislation – states like Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, and Oklahoma. Tea party states. N0bama states.
Giving laws exquisitely misleading names is a hallmark of the last few decades. The PATRIOT act offends most American values we used to hold dear. The Defense of Marriage Act doesn’t defend any marriage; it prevents the federal government from recognizing the legality of same-sex marriages if states allow them. There are tons more, and it’s a bipartisan issue.
But “right to work” statutes sound fantastic – it would be great if the government actually instituted a law that gave people a fundamental right to work. However, such laws were actually a hallmark of Leninist dictatorships, where people were given make-work do-nothing jobs because who cares? Everyone works for the state, anyway.
Isn’t it hilarious that the proponents of an American “right to work” scheme are the same people who shout “socialism” at a market-based, conservative Heritage Foundation-created Obamacare? They also scream “MARX” and “LENIN” at you when you suggest that we should join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee every American the right to access to quality health care.
As an aside – if you yell “socialism” at everything Obama does, and the economy starts to improve – if your personal situation improves – then “socialism” is going to gain in popularity. Dummies.
Back to Michigan and “right to work”. What it does is interfere with the right to contract. What it does is interfere with the right of workers to collectively organize and negotiate with management for better pay, better benefits, better work conditions. By weakening those labor protections, you weaken the right to organize and to freely associate.
Right-to-work laws prohibit “union security agreements”, which are contracts between unions and management whereby the union can require labor to join a union as a condition of employment. This ensures that labor can effectively negotiate working conditions with management at something approaching a level playing field; it gives the exploited labor some leverage. What these laws are not is some sort of statutory guarantee of available employment for every citizen of a state.
That’s not always how it shakes out. For instance, right-to-work North Carolina has a 9.3% unemployment rate right now, while liberal Massachusetts has a 6.6% rate. You’d think that employers, unshackled by unions, would flock to North Carolina and hire wildly. Indiana’s unemployment rate dropped somewhat after it passed a right-to-work statute. No huge drop, however. And what do you give up for that? The right to work for crappy wages with crappy benefits? How does this help grow the middle class, or lift the middle class up? How does this advance our society in any meaningful way? How does this enhance the dignity of work?
The American assault on labor began in earnest when Reagan broke the air traffic controller’s union. Since that time, wages have stagnated, and income inequality has skyrocketed. When you weaken labor, you turn America into a plutocratic banana republic, where the very rich pay off the politicians to ensure that their wealth is protected and secured at the expense of the remaining 99% of Americans. That’s what conservatism in America has wrought.
Instead of making it easier for workers to be exploited more by their management, the government should be protecting the rights of workers to be treated fairly and equitably. We should be protecting the right of people to organize and associate with each other in order to ensure good treatment in the workplace. We should be expanding – not contracting – the rights of labor, and by doing that you strengthen America. An America where people don’t march in the streets when multinational corporations legally avoid paying taxes by exporting their profits to holding companies in tax havens. We don’t march in the streets when people shoplift so they can get chemotherapy treatment. We don’t march in the streets for much of anything, except to stand in line for Zhu Zhu Pets or to rail against some fantasy Kenyan socialism.
What Michigan did is done, and perhaps its unemployment rate will drop, in time. But so will New York’s, and so will everyone else’s. The question is – what are the quality and type of the jobs being created, and why should we further erode the constitutional guarantee of free association. Instead, Michigan is about to free ownership to treat workers as fungible chattel.